Singapore hockey captain Enrico Marican leaves today for a second three-month stint with Spanish top-flight team Club Deportiu Terrassa Hockey hoping more of his compatriots will follow in his footsteps to raise the local standard of the sport.
The 26-year-old returns to the Barcelona-based club where he spent three months last September and said such overseas exposure was crucial if the Republic were to ever win the SEA Games gold.
His team-mates Tan Yi Ru and Nur Ashriq Ferdaus had improved their skills after their respective stints in France and Belgium in 2013.
Enrico said yesterday: "With our national players gaining more international exposure, we can close the gap with Malaysia and challenge for the SEA Games gold.
"We have to start somewhere to get closer to our neighbours, one of the methods is to learn from the best and if we start now we can only go upwards and get stronger and be smarter hockey players."
Singapore are ranked world No. 40 and won bronze at last year's Kuala Lumpur SEA Games. Malaysia, 28 spots higher, took the title.
For Enrico, a veteran of five Games who now works as a floorball coach, the opportunity to train abroad was invaluable.
National coach Rajan Krishnan said: "We got a report from the club after the first time he was there. They were very happy with his performances, and want him back after the winter break. I have every confidence that he will do well there."
The opportunity came about last year, when former national coach Juanma Mas - now Terrassa's trainer - contacted Enrico on Facebook to play for his club.
The Singapore Hockey Federation paid for Enrico's flights and defrayed some of his living costs, while the club provided him with accommodation, food and transport.
He also earned about €300 (S$487) a month coaching the club's youth teams, although it is a fraction of what he earns here as a coach.
While he is among the best in Singapore, he had to adapt to the physicality and the speed of the game in Spain.
"I thought my level was good enough, but I took nearly three weeks to adapt," he said. "It took time for me to adjust to their communication styles, their style of play, everything. I had to work my way up."
The players were stronger and fitter, and had a hard-pressing attitude on the field, which Enrico tried to impart to his younger team-mates after his stint.
"I want them to be frustrated when they make mistakes, and would enforce 'punishments' - 20 to 30 burpees - if we don't do well in training or matches," he said.
Asked about the wisdom of sending individual players of a team sport for overseas training stints, former Malaysia international Rajan said: "We have a lot of young players in our current team, and they look up to seniors like Enrico, and want to be like them.
"As such, the younger ones would have the motivation to keep up with him, and adapt to his play during matches, rather than the other way round."
Enrico added: "I want them to know that there's another level that they can aspire to, that if they put in the hard work, who knows where it'll bring them to."